Agnes Mackelhanney (latenite_snacks) wrote in bookish,
Agnes Mackelhanney

The Great American Novel - Philip Roth

I have no idea how I feel about this book.

On one hand, there were several extremely quotable sections of this novel. It was also a book by my favorite author about my favorite sport (baseball) and was a scathing satire on McCarthyism (one of my favorite things to satirize).

First of all, the Prologue was 50 pages long and extremely boring. It started off with these weird literary techniques (about 3 pages of alliteration, as one example), which were later proven to have been necessary to set up the plot. However, if I didn't know Roth was a genius and would eventually make it work my while, there's no way I would have made it through those 50 pages.

The book was broken down into several portions. Some were details of the various players on a fictional team that played for a fictional third league (The Patriot League). The book took place during World War II and as such the best players in baseball were off at war. That left a mostly interesting and hilarious cast of characters playing for the big leagues. This ranged from the 15 year pitching ace, to the one legged catcher to the one armed right fielder to the midget pinch-hitter that never once was thrown a strike. There were also portions of the book that traveled as far as Africa to tell bizarre stories of missionaries and cannibalism.

While a lot of these stories were interesting and mostly amusing, there was no point to them. It began to feel a bit tedious and I was left wondering if it was going to be tied together at all or just end as a disjointed series of mostly pointless (though funny) stories of escapades on the road.

The last 50 pages or so really redeemed this book for me, which is why I gave it a somewhere between 6-8 out of 10 rating. Without the last 50 pages it would safely have been a 6.

In these last few sections, we learned who the narrator was (well, we knew all along that his name was Word Smith, we just didn't know why we should care or how he was related to the story, beyond him being a sportswriter). There was also, finally, a linear plot that I was able to follow. There was all kinds of great weird Russian spy stuff, including Russian spy schools and organizations with acronyms like SHIT, TWAT and CACA. There was also a rousing speech given by one Mr. Word Smith to the House Un-American Activities Committee that was particularly hilarious.

I feel like this book was an experiment for Roth. He tried some interesting things and I'm just not sure how I feel about them. I've read about 10 of his 20+ books now and his story telling strengths were certainly not apparent here.

However, the book was affecting. I spent about an hour after I finished it going back through it and putting the pieces together. I'd like to read it again and if I weren't already in the middle of another book I'd probably have just started it again immediately after finishing it.

Which, I suppose, is a pretty good indication that I felt pretty good about the damn thing.



Somewhere between 6/10 and 8/10 (sounds like a 7/10 to me)
Books read : 3
Pages read : 1,112
Currently reading : The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow and Four Men : Living the Revolution - An Oral History of Contemporary Cuba"

Favorite passages : 

"America?" said Gamesh, smiling. "Roland, what's American to you? Or me, or those tens of thousands up in the the stands? It's just a word they use to keep your nose to the grindstone and your toes to the line. America is the opiate of the people."

- - -

"Now obviously, in peacetime a one-legged catcher, like a one-armed outfielder (such as the Mundys had roaming right), would have been at the most a curiosity somewhere down in the dingiest town in the minors - precisely where Hot had played during the many years that the nations of the world lived in harmony. But it is one of life's grisly ironies that what is catastrophe for most of mankind, invariably works to the advantage of a few who live on the fringes of the human community. On the other hand, it is a grisly irony to live on the fringes of the human community."

- - -

"But of course you must remember, fans, the turning points in our history are not always so grand as they are cracked up to be in the murals on your post office wall."

- - -

"But they don't deserve to be winning!"
"And who does in this world, Roland? Only the gifted and the beautiful and the brave? What about the rest of us, Champ? What about the wretched, for example? What about the weak and the lowly and the desperate and the fearful and the deprived, to name but a few who come to mind? What about losers? What about failures? What about the ordinary fucking outcasts of this world - who happen to comprise ninety percent of the human race! Don't they have dreams, Agni? Don't they have hopes? Just who told you clean-cut bastards own the world anyway? Who put you clean-cut bastards in charge, that's what I'd like to know! Oh, let me tell you something. All-American Adonis : you fair-haired sons of bitches have had your day. It's all over, Agni. We're not playing according to your clean-cut rules anymore - we're playing according to our own! The Revolution has begun! Henceforth the Mundys are the master race! Long live Glorious Mundy!" 



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